The Sporadic Beaver

If He Were 64

October 18, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney, May Pang, Nowhere Man, Mark David Chapman



I'm probably not the best audience for Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, the jukebox musical that opened this week at the Union Square Theatre, in New York. But the fault isn't with the show; it's with me, and it's strictly a case of having been marinated in Beatles music, lore, and literature for more than a half-century and having written a John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, after transcribing and editing the personal diaries that Lennon kept from 1975 until his death in 1980. The problem is that I've heard it all before, and what I want from a show like this is to hear something new and unexpected.

John R. Waters, an Australian film and TV star, is not (thank God) a Lennon impersonator. Rather than wearing a wig and the trademark glasses, he portrays the ex-Beatle as he might have been had he lived and, at age 64 or so, decided to perform in intimate venues, singing his classic songs and explaining the inspiration behind them. Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta, whose piano playing is the musical driving force behind this stripped-down production, have been doing the show for 22 years, and, not surprisingly, they’ve got it down cold (turkey).

In this alternate Glass Onion reality, the AARP-ified Walrus—clad in a black leather jacket and black jeans, and enveloped in a mist that perhaps suggests the limbo between life and death—shares his thoughts on Mark David Chapman, his would-be assassin, suggesting that he must have listened to a lot of Beatles music, which, in fact, he did.

As Waters strums an acoustic guitar and D’Arrietta pounds on the piano (and occasionally harmonizes), the duo work their way through either snippets or complete renditions of more than 30 selections from the Lennon-solo and Lennon-McCartney songbooks, including such favorites as “A Day in the Life,” “Help,” “Imagine,” and “Watching the Wheels.”

Waters intersperses the music with wittily told stories and quips (mostly lifted from interviews, though sometimes made up) about Lennon’s rivalry with Paul McCartney, the bigger-than-Jesus blowup, his relationship with Yoko Ono, meditating with the Maharishi, the birth of his son Sean, and the so-called househusband years. And he indeed gives a good sense of what it might have been like to listen to Lennon. His performance demonstrates the absurdity of Ono’s contention that her third husband was so complex, no one actor could portray him—a notion she brought to life in the 2005 Broadway catastrophe Lennon, in which nine actors, both men and women, took turns playing Lennon and ultimately communicated no sense of who he was or what his life was like.

Just once, however, I’d like to see Lennon portrayed in a way that goes beyond retelling the most famous stories and does not totally buy into the bread-baking househusband myth. Show him in his final years as the tormented, secluded, confused, and jealous man that he was. Show him continuing his affair with May Pang after he went home to Yoko, and carrying a torch for May until the day he died. Show him as a contradictory man who longed to follow the path of Jesus but also dabbled in the occult, loved money, smoked a lot of weed, lost his muse, and then regained it after an epic creative struggle.

It would have been great to hear Waters sing some of the lesser-known Lennon songs that illuminate this reality, like “Serve Yourself,” complete with the spoken-word primal meltdown of “Youse fuckin’ kids all the fuckin’ same...” which was directed at his older son, Julian.

Apparently, though, this isn’t what most Lennon fans want. They want to hear the most famous songs, and judging by the audience reaction, Waters and D’Arrietta gave the people exactly what they wanted, straight up and with fresh energy.

Even so, it’s hard not to see Lennon: Through a Glass Onion as a poignantly sad reminder of what can never be again and what so many people, myself included, have tried so hard to keep alive throughout these ever more dispiriting times.

Must-See TV

August 21, 2014

Tags: Hollywood Scandals, Reelz, John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, May Pang, Mark David Chapman

Should you find yourself in front of a TV tonight, Thursday, August 21, you might want to check out the Reelz channel at 9 P.M. ET or 8 P.M. CT. I'm going to be on a show called Hollywood Scandals, talking about John Lennon and his killer, Mark David Chapman.

I pop up eight times altogether, three times quickly in the opening minutes and five more times, somewhat more substantially, towards the end.

The episode is an accurate and surprisingly evenhanded rundown of Lennon’s life and death. But as the name of the show implies, they don’t hesitate to highlight the numerous “scandals” that punctuated his life—the “bigger than Jesus” controversy; leaving his first wife, Cynthia, for Yoko Ono; and his affair with May Pang, for example.

There is, however, nothing salacious about the presentation. Like Detective Joe Friday on Dragnet, which was also set in L.A., Hollywood Scandals wants “just the facts,” wherever they may lead.

It’s rare that I’m given the opportunity to talk about Lennon on national TV, and it’s extraordinary that they’ve allowed me to mention his diaries or any of the details of his final years, before he emerged from seclusion to record Double Fantasy. So this is must-see TV for Lennon fans, and especially for the ever-growing community of Nowhere Man readers.

Using the hashtag #HWDScandals, I’ll be making every effort to live-tweet the show.

In New York City, Reelz is 128 on Time Warner cable; you can click here to find it on your cable or satellite system.

The Lennon episode will also air on the following days:

Sunday, August 24 at 12 P.M. ET
Monday, August 25 at 2 A.M. ET
Thursday, August 28 at 8 P.M. ET


Hope you can all come together and watch this one.

On the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles in America…

February 10, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Beatles, reviews, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, May Pang

February 9, 1964, left to right, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.
The Internet is filled with thousands of Beatles forums--online communities where people can log in and discuss the Fab Four. DM's Beatles Forums, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, BeatleLinks, and rec.music.beatles are among the multitude of sites I've browsed over the decades.

If John Lennon were alive today, I think he'd enjoy posting anonymously on some of these forums, and I'm certain that whatever he said would be greeted with comments far less generous than, "You don't know shit about the Beatles!"

That's because Beatles forums tend to be vipers’ nests of ignorance and hostility, with the most vicious comments coming from the people who know the least. May Pang, for example, used to post in rec.music.beatles, but was driven off the site by malicious attacks on virtually everything she said.

The most scathing reviews of Nowhere Man that I’ve seen anywhere have been posted by people who proudly declare, “I’ve never read the book. I don’t have to. I know what’s in it.”

Last night, inspired by the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, I was browsing one of the more civilized forums, Beatles Bible, when I came across a comment that shocked me. Going against the usual party line of “Nowhere Man bad!” somebody who uses the moniker “10centwings” indulged in a bit of independent thought. Softening his or her post with the standard caveat about reading it “with one eyebrow raised,” 10centwings said, “I’m 1/3 through the Rosen book…. This one’s a page turner. I actually lunched in today just so that I could sneak in an extra hour of reading.”

A comment like this, from a “real” reader, in a forum that’s usually hostile to the book reminds me yet again why Nowhere Man endures 14 years after publication. And though the controversy will probably never cease, more people are beginning to see the book for what it is.

I can hardly wait till Nowhere Man’s 50th anniversary.

John Lennon's Final Voyage

January 27, 2014

Tags: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Milk and Honey, NME, Nowhere Man, Paul McCartney, May Pang, Fred Seaman

Thirty years ago today, on January 27, 1984, Yoko Ono released Milk and Honey, the album she and John Lennon were working on the night of December 8, 1980, hours before Lennon was murdered. In commemoration of this anniversary, NME, the venerable British music mag, has run a cover story about Lennon and the LP.

Because I read, transcribed, edited, and wrote about Lennon's diaries in my book Nowhere Man, I was one of the people they interviewed for the article.

They also spoke with my former writing partner and Lennon's personal assistant Fred Seaman, photographer Bob Gruen, and three musicians who played on Milk and Honey: guitarist Earl Slick, arranger Tony Devillo, and keyboard player George Small.

Written by Barry Nicolson, “The Final Voyage” is notable for its even-handedness. Nicolson takes pains to get beyond the myth of Lennon as a content, bread-baking househusband, and instead portrays him as a contradictory, deeply flawed, three-dimensional human being—which is probably why Ono refused to talk to him.

Nicolson balances my take on Lennon’s relationships with Ono, Paul McCartney, and May Pang, and his obsession with the occult, with Gruen’s attempts to perpetuate the myth, and Seaman’s efforts to characterize Lennon as a Republican and a supporter of Ronald Reagan. (The only thing Lennon said in his diaries about Reagan was that they’d shoot him and we’d get a CIA government. He was right on both counts... eventually.)

My only complaint about the piece is that the photo identified as “Robert Rosen” isn’t me, and I’d suggest that a correction is in order.

“The Final Voyage” is a rare example of rock journalism that neither places Lennon on a pedestal (like Ray Coleman) nor tears him down to size (like Albert Goldman). Click here to read the complete story.

Lennonight

October 2, 2013

Tags: John Lennon, Nowhere Man, Yoko Ono, Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Chapter 27, J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Mark David Chapman, May Pang, Bloomsday on Beaver Street, Lexi Love, Title TK

They were into wordplay, John and Yoko, especially when it came to their names, which lent themselves to a variety of combinations, like Lenono Music and Discono, a title John suggested for one of Yoko's LPs. In that spirit, I'm calling this post "Lennonight," which will take place at 8:00 PM, on Tuesday, October 15, in the upstairs lounge of the 2A bar in the East Village.

This is number four in the Tuesday night reading series that Eric Danville, Lainie Speiser, and I have been producing. We've christened our spoken-word collective Title TK, and Listen to This Reading is our celebration of John Lennon's birthday--he would have been 73 on October 9.

I’m going to read from my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, specifically the opening chapter, “Being Rich,” the closing chapter, “Dakota Fantasy,” and “Chapter 27,” which is a reference to the nonexistent chapter of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the novel that drove Mark David Chapman to murder.

Mary Lyn Maiscott, who’s more accustomed to performing with a guitar in hand, will read from “Birth of a Song,” the Nowhere Man chapter that explores the inspiration behind Lennon’s “I’m Losing You,” which Mary Lyn covered at the first Bloomsday on Beaver Street.

Lainie will read from May Pang’s memoir, Loving John.

Other readers include actor David Healy, adult actress Alia Janine, actor James Sasser, and radio personality Ralph Sutton.

As always, admission is free and there’s no cover.

In other Title TK news, Lexi Love has created a long-awaited Bloomsday on Beaver Street page on her Website. The page features some very cool photos and the complete audio of her reading that night. Check it out for a taste of the unexpected drama you can expect on October 15, at 2A

Live from New York It's Rew & Who?

December 9, 2011

Tags: Rew & Who?, Otto’s Shrunken Head, Nowhere Man, The Final Days of John Lennon, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, May Pang, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Hoop, Bobby in Naziland



Two days ago I made my debut on the Rew & Who? show. If you were unable to watch the live webcast from Otto's Shrunken Head in New York City, here are the two video clips of my interview with Rew and her co-host, Alan Rand.

In addition to talking about and reading from Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, I also spoke at some length about my new book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, which is out now in the U.K. and will be published here in March 2012, and the book I’m currently writing, tentatively titled Bobby in Naziland.



Among the people appearing with me for this tribute to John Lennon and Rew’s brother Richard “Dicky” Kesten were May Pang, whom I haven’t seen since 1981; my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, who sang Lennon’s “I’m Losing You” and her own Christmas song, “Blue Lights;” and Hoop, who played guitar for Mary Lyn, and sang his original song about Lennon, “Oh, John.”

You can see clips of all Rew’s guests on YouTube.

Lineup for NYC Dec. 7 Lennon Tribute

December 6, 2011

Tags: Rew & Who?, Otto's Shrunken Head, John Lennon, Nowhere Man, May Pang, David Peel, Hoop, Mary Lyn Maiscott

The show's called Rew & Who and is dedicated to the memory of John Lennon and Rew's brother Richard "Dicky" Kesten.

Wednesday, December 7
4:00-6:00 P.M. (local time)
Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street
New York City


Or watch it live on Internet TV.

Alan Rand is the “Who?”
4:00: May Pang
4:15: Hoop
4:30: Mary Lyn Maiscott
4:45: Robert Rosen
5:00: Adam Bomb
5:15: Violet The Cannibal
5:30: Joff Wilson & David Peel
5:45: Gail/GRGR